Over the next 20 years rapid advancement in automated robotic and computer technology threatens to replace five million Australian jobs with robots like Baxter who will be industrial slaves for a mere $35,000.
In 2014, Queensland’s unemployment rate was at an 11 year high with unemployment at 6.8 percent. For many, unemployment and job security is a real worry and it seems Australians now have to compete with robots and increasing computer technologies to keep their jobs.
Professor Michael Osborn of the Oxford Martin School at Oxford University says almost half of Australia’s jobs are at risk of being taken over by AI (artificial intelligence) technologies. Robots are infiltrating all areas of the workforce with robots now doing jobs that require thinking.
Having worked in the finance industry, I know first hand what effects technological advancements can have on the workplace. Many banks now have automated machines and computers where there once were human beings. Job security is a luxury that few Australians enjoy and competing with computers is today's reality.
Australia imports approximately 700 industrial robots annually and many businesses view “employing” robots as smart business thinking. These businesses are saving money on labor, workplace injuries and sicknesses, and human error. With dramatic cost cuts, businesses are producing materials more efficiently and have a competitive edge in their industry, offering products cheaper than their competitors.
Baxter is one of the human style robots and is the first of his kind in Australia. Baxter costs only $35,000 and has already become a popular business investment in both the US and UK. Baxter can be trained to perform many tasks including material handling, packaging, and machine tending.
Baxter founder Rodney Brooks has said that robotics will actually help increase employment in industrial countries such as the US, UK, and Australia as the cost of manufacturing and producing products onshore will dramatically decrease. Currently, the majority of manufacturing is performed overseas in countries like China and Indonesia as low labour costs increase business profitability.
Introducing Baxter will enable businesses to have manufacturing sites onshore and create more higher-skilled employment opportunities. Brooks also believes Baxter will help reduce workplace injuries by eliminating some dangerous and dirty jobs.
<<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Baxter, a collaborative robot developed by Rethink Robotics, is helping GE Healthcare eliminate dangerous jobs. <a href="http://t.co/UuW2Vmkq2m">http://t.co/UuW2Vmkq2m</a></p>— gecareers (@GECareers) <a href="https://twitter.com/GECareers/status/559350812699160576?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 25, 2015</a></blockquote>
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Previously in Australia robots were almost exclusively used by the automotive industry. However, robotics are not the only threat to Australian jobs. Artificial intelligence is constantly advancing and computers are increasingly substituting human employees. A recent study found that over 700 jobs are at risk of being replaced by computers. The following chart shows the 12 most susceptible occupations over the next 20 years.
Loan officers are the most at risk of losing their jobs to computers. Online peer-to-peer lender Daric Inc. partial funder Mr Richard Kovacevich says Daric Inc. does not employ a single loans officer and probably never will. Daric Inc. is able to carry out their loans process completely online using algorithms, saving the company time and money.
If your job is on the list the don't despair. There are a few things to bear in mind. Firstly, the transition to automation will take time. These changes are predicted to occur over 20 years. Also, these changes will bring about many new roles that don't exist today and it's likely that people's roles will evolve over time rather than being replaced.
In the UK for example, is it estimated that 35% of jobs are at risk from automation yet 73% of businesses in London plan to increase overall headcount.
Many of us are exposed to technology infiltration every day without even realising it. At many KFC’s you now place your order at an automated machine, another machine then tells you when it is ready. Most of us use the self-checkouts at the supermarket instead of waiting to see a cashier. Many people apply for financial products, such as insurance and lending, online. The list goes on and on.
Automated technologies save consumers and businesses money and time, but there is a human toll while unemployment and cost of living continues to rise.
Former Rudd government treasurer Mr Chris Bowen has warned of the very real risks robots pose to Australian jobs, especially to those in lower paid employment.
“A hollowing out of the labour market, means that there are plenty of new jobs created for highly skilled and trained individuals.
"But others are forced into a diminishing pool with fewer and lower-paid jobs, meaning a stagnate average real wage growth and increasing economic inequality is the norm,” Mr Bowen said.
Economic growth is driven by human beings but as increased labour productivity begins to detach from increased employment we can no longer rely on employment driving the economy. Mr Bowen warns that the government would be negligent to ignore such a real and imminent phenomenon.
Robotic and computer technologies certainly make our lives easier and more efficient but when Australia has five million jobs at risk over the next 20 years it may be time to rethink our dependency. Indeed, some thought leaders such as Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk believe AI could eventually put all over humanity at risk if it becomes so smart we can no longer control it.
We can be sure of one thing, uncertain times lie ahead for Australian workers and the Australian economy.